Toronto

A pay-what-you-can grocery store is opening its doors in The Junction neighbourhood

From soups and salads to baked goods and fresh produce, stocking up on organic produce can often mean paying top dollar. But a pay-what-you-can grocery store set to open its doors in west-end Toronto is changing that.

Chef Jagger Gordon, founder of Feed It Forward, is rescuing 'ugly' produce to combat a $31B food waste problem

Toronto chef Jagger Gordon wants to see the provincial government make it mandatory for grocery stores and restaurants to donate food approaching its expiry date to food banks and shelters, instead of throwing it in the trash. (CBC)

From soups and salads to baked goods and fresh produce, stocking up on organic produce can often mean paying top dollar. But a pay-what-you-can grocery store set to open its doors in west-end Toronto is changing that.

Chef Jagger Gordon, founder of Feed It Forward, is opening up what might be Toronto's first such store on 3324 Dundas St. W. in the city's Junction neighbourhood, where it will be open to the public seven days a week.

His mission? "A rescue food system where we utilize the ugly fruits and vegetables and the blemished food that seems to be ending up in our landfills continuously."

And to prove the model can not only work — but work sustainably.

"We're just trying to showcase how this can be done," Gordon told CBC Radio's Here and Now.

'It's the saddest thing'

Each year in Canada, $31 billion worth of food ends up in landfills or compost, according to a 2014 report from consulting firm Value Chain Management International. That's in contrast to parts of Europe, where banning food waste is already the norm. 

In 2016, for example, France banned food waste, forcing supermarkets to sign agreements with charities so no edible food ends up in the trash. Italy, meanwhile, offers tax breaks when businesses donate leftovers. 

As a caterer, Gordon first came up with the idea of putting less than picture-perfect produce to good use in 2014. Sick of finding that so much good food was headed for the garbage, he decided he'd start packaging and freezing it. 

Last year, he put the model to the test with a pay-what-you-can restaurant.

Finding discarded food isn't difficult

Finding the food isn't difficult, he says. Every day, grocery stores, food terminals and restaurants discard plenty of edible produce. So much so that Gordon says he "rescues" around 225 to 450 kilograms every day.
At Gordon's pay-what-you-can soup bar, diners can pay it forward so that others can get a meal.

One question Gordon says he's gotten a lot while setting up the innovative store is how he can afford it. The answer, he says, is a bit of social enterprise, using the proceeds from his catering company and the power of hundreds of volunteers.

So why the Junction?

Gordon says that while parts of the neighbourhood are "property-rich," many in the less affluent areas struggle to pay their rent. That's borne out by a men's shelter going up in the neighbourhood's margins, along with several single families.

"If you have to pay for that house or that apartment and you can't afford a healthier lifestyle because of it, well now you don't have to worry about that," Gordon said.

"Watching the children's faces, knowing the children are getting fed, that single families are getting fed, that's the most joyful thing," he said.

"Seeing someone's belly filled, with a smile they can walk away with."

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